Media Literacy for SEOs (or, Why SEO Outing is Bad)

Dec 4th

About a month ago I was chatting with Rand via email. He explained that he thought that the perception that SEO is manipulative was harming the industry, in part to justify his outing strategy. I explained that I thought the goal of most media was manipulation (with attention sold to the highest bidder) and promised him that I would write a post along those lines.

It is not going to be an easy post to write. It will eat thousands of dollars of my time. And I most likely will not make any sales from it, but it is a nice introduction to how media works for anyone who has not yet seen or read Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent.

Self-survival is the First Goal of Any Organization

Parking meters are needed to add cost to a finite good (parking places) to decrease demand. Recently in Oakland they went from $1.25/hr to $1.50/hr. The meter man explained inflation to me, right before I read a bunch of news about the potential horrors of pending deflation. Why was I talking to the parking meter guy? I talked to the parking meter guy long enough that the person he was going to write a ticket for got away. I had done my good deed for the day. :)

The payment gateway for that particular area was broken. I pointed that out to him and he said "oh yeah I will call it in" with a matter-of-fact tone. So he knew the meters were broke, but didn't get them fixed because he knew he would be able to write more parking tickets that way.

About a week later, parking in a nearby area, I put a quarter in a regular pay meter and went in to pick up food that I had ordered. When I came back to the car the meter showed a minute left, but there was already a parking ticket on my window. Probably the same corner cutting public servant hooked me up on that deal.

Fraud can happen at the individual level, but as an organization grows bigger it...

  • requires more capital to be sustained
  • has more stakeholders (employees, partners, investors, & customers - each having unique goals and interests)
  • finds additional incremental growth opportunities are harder to come by

Bob Massa mentioned being at a business meeting where the CEO was told all our KPIs point south...to which the CEO replied "sounds like we need some new KPIs."

Which leads us to the inverse law of business ethics: the larger a business grows the more hypocritical it must be to sustain its growth and please its stakeholders.

The Media Sells What is Hot

Best. Bubble. Ever.

The US society is largely based on instant gratification, consumption, and debt. To keep growing we need to build bubbles (and promote them via the media), hoping to make each bubble larger than the last. Mortgage fraud replaced the tech bubble. And the next bubble will likely be related to green energy.

Media Pandering

"If it bleeds it leads." The press is always pandering the story of the day to make it seem more important than it is in an attempt to capture attention

The media lemmings, the same ones that encouraged you to get a second mortgage, buy a McMansion and spend, spend, spend are now falling all over themselves to out-mourn the others. They are telling everyone to batten down, to cut back, to freeze and panic. They're looking for stories about this, advice about this, hooks about this.

Or as a commenter named Mike, on one of my favorite investing blogs, wrote:

Some idiot on Bloomberg is talking about how irrational consumers had been and how they are now getting rational. Judging someone's rationality depends on what they knew at the time. And, Joe the Plumber was bombarded for years with propaganda about how your house was your best investment, stocks always go up, we are the kings of the world, etc. They did what you would expect.

Now, if those of us who look behind the curtain had bought into the hype, that would be irrational.

Media is usually selling you up the river to some advertiser interest.

Advertiser Interests Come First

In The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine, Google's founders explained:

Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.

Years later, after Google became the world's largest ad network by scraping that content and wrapping it in ads, how did their view of that same web change? Eric Schmidt explained:

The internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said yesterday. Speaking with an audience of magazine executives visiting the Google campus here as part of their annual industry conference, he said their brands were increasingly important signals that content can be trusted.

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

"Brand affinity is clearly hard wired," he said. "It is so fundamental to human existence that it's not going away. It must have a genetic component."

In less than a decade branding moved from "the enemy" to "how you sort out the cesspool." Makes sense if your business model is to educate consumers by cashing in on other's branding efforts one click at a time.

But Google has obscene profit margins and market leverage and does try hard to strike some level of balance. No other large media company has similar profit margins or market leverage, and thus they tend to be more controlled by advertiser interest.

Consider Fox News, which fired some of its reporters for wanting to report the potential link between rBGH and cancer. Why were the reporters fired? They refused to be silent about the research they had done, and as an advertiser pushing rBGH onto ignorant consumers, Monsanto was going to cut their ad spend if the truth about their product came out. Killing people with cancer for a dollar...that is how low some media standards are.

Shill media is so commonplace that not being a shill is actually remarkable.

Conduits for Misinformation

Public Relations vs Reality

Many companies live by telling multiple stories simultaneously. When Google was promoting PageRank they talked about how it leveraged the "unique democratic structure" of the web. But when the Department of Justice sued Google for search data, Google's response stated that "Google only attempts to crawl the "best of the Web" to create a useful repository of Web pages." And when they feared GoogleBombing potentially causing negative blowback during the 2008 election cycle, Google tried to defuse the practice.

Sensationalism

Sensationalism works. Write something that is factual and nobody cares. Twist is just a bit and it is press worthy. That is why guys like Jason Calacanas are so fond of writing lines like "What you do in the next 30 days will probably make or break your company."

Distortions

Just about everyone knows that magazine cover and billboard photos are edited.

But did you know that when Fox News producers are angry at someone they will edit their photo to yellow their teeth and make their nose larger?

Reductionism

Alan Greenspan was known to speak in "Fedspeak" in an attempt to guide markets without causing panic. But in some cases he was crystal clear with his messaging. When asked of the Bush tax cut plan, Alan said that if US economic surpluses remain, then a tax cut at some point might make sense. And the next day the newspapers flooded the stands with the message "Greenspan endorses Bush tax cut" (ignoring the if surpluses remain part). Alan Greenspan discussed this reductionism in detail in his The Age of Turbulence.

Lies

If your budget is large enough and your sample data pool large enough it is not hard to lie with statistics. Some business models are based on pushing through biased research and hoping that their solution is so ingrained in society that by the time the truth comes out nothing changes.

In almost any area where Google talks about their being "spam" there are brands built off of sleight of hand marketing.

Finance

The bogus consumer bankruptcy bill was pushed using biased stats highlighting a subset of people that filed for bankruptcy because they did not pay their credit card debts. But the real leading cause for personal bankruptcies in the United States is medical issues. The same bankers that pushed that garbage are now at the trough begging for handouts amounting to $7,400,000,000,000 ($24,000+ for every man, woman, and child in the US).

Want to know what that taxpayer money is being spent on? They are not sharing that information! Bloomberg is suing the government in an attempt to find out. Gerald O’Driscoll, a former vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, had this to say: "Nontransparency in government programs is always associated with corruption in other countries, so I don’t see why it wouldn’t be here."

Education

We are taught that the rising cost of college is just because a degree is worth so much, while ignoring kickbacks to finacial aid officers and a decade of student loan fraud.

Healthcare

After decades of bogus research, much of it was de-bunked.

The truth was there all along, but it just took a few decades to come out in the media.

Politics

The examples are so abundant it is hard to pick one. But as an example, here are pre-election stories blaming high oil prices AND low stock prices on the market pricing in the likelihood of an Obama presidential victory. Such analysis is usually thin on research.

Greed and Fraud Are Fundamental Parts of Capitalism

I could list dozens more categories here if I took the time to do the research. Kickbacks and misinformation are everywhere because capitalism promotes short term gain at the expense of future generations. When a company goes public so much is driven by making the numbers and getting your bonus. Some media companies even carry fake video clips created by public relations companies.

Even the US Government Actively Manipulates the Media

The US government so heavily alters economic data that there is a third party website to decode their numbers.

The US government actively manipulates the media to mislead and misinform consumers. If you watch Robert S. McNamara's Fog of War you will see him talk about how they timed Vietnam War related releases to play them down and minimize blowback.

30 years later the media is still being used to propagandize war. What ever happened to those weapons of mass destruction that were central to the lies that started the Iraq war? George Bush thinks their absence is funny. So does the press corps

As one Youtube commenter puts it:

As repulsive as Bush is, we shouldn't forget some of the people laughing at his "humor," notably the press corps who helped him sell his phony war and who derided, as naive or unpatriotic, those who raised doubts about the WMD issue before it started. But hey, war makes for great great TV and big profits for the military-industrial-media complex. They're a big part of the reason why America is so frequently at war.

Back when we were pushing to go to war there was nothing but cheer leading from the media, and now the same media reports how the Pentagon used (and still uses) TV analysts that have equity stakes in defense contractors to sell the Iraq war to the US public:

Collectively, the men on the plane and several dozen other military analysts represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror.
...
Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence.
...
Members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access.

There are laws against inside trading, and yet somehow it is legal for the government to give defense contractors classified information so long as they are willing to lie to the US public in exchange for it. Mind blowing!

In 2004 (just before the US elections) the BBC aired Adam Curtis's The Power of Nightmares - a documentary showing that Al-Qaeda is a fictitious organization created and promoted to scare US citizens for the political gain of neoconservatives. The US TV networks refused to give it air time:

"Something extraordinary has happened to American TV since September 11," says Curtis. "A head of the leading networks who had better remain nameless said to me that there was no way they could show it. He said, 'Who are you to say this?' and then he added, 'We would get slaughtered if we put this out.'" Surely a relatively enlightened broadcaster like HBO would show it? "When I was in New York I took a DVD to the head of documentaries at HBO. I still haven't heard from him."

And while crony capitalism thrives with the government lying to their own citizens, it gets harder for a citizen's voice to be heard. It is as though Carl Sandburg never wrote or read The People Yes.

Reporters Spin the Truth

Some have complained about live blogging not being accurate, but the same thing happens with regular reporting.

I think humans tend to be somewhat dismissive of or scared of technologies they do not understand. That is why Lori Drew was tried on 3 counts of accessing computers without authorization, rather than being tried for psychologically abusing a child.

Reporters should be skeptical because in some cases people are willfully feeding reporters inside details that are false to try to push a stock (or some other business interest). The sheer level of detail in The London Times's report on the false Microsoft Yahoo deal last weekend is mind-boggling. Those sorts of lies are embarassing and make reporters cautious.

Some reporters know their stuff and do in depth research, but some go into writing their pieces with an end goal in mind, looking to misquote you to drive home their point...asking leading questions and making you the focus of them. For example, I was asked about how I could use Google Knol for spamming. I responded with something like "I don't consider myself nefarious, but for sake of argument lets say you or I were the nefarious type..." and that got quoted as "lets say I am the nefarious type."

Why do People Buy SEO?

SEO is Worth a Lot of Money

I gave a presentation at an investor conference and ended up charging somewhere around $1,000 a minute for the presentation.

I recently charged a CEO $300 for a 30 minute speech and hung up feeling guilty that I under-charged him. I taught them all sorts of advanced topics like conditional site structure alterations based on crawl information and traffic levels all other sorts of goodies. I estimate that call will add at least $1,000,000 of search traffic to his business if he executes on 50% of what I taught him.

Nobody Wants Average Rankings

While I have had well over 10,000 paying customers, not a single one of them has ever paid me with the goal of "rank them where they deserve to."

Everyone who has paid me a large sum of money (say 5 figures or more) wanted to rank better than they were, and in most cases (all but 1 so far) better than they would deserve to from an objective view of the web. And those who were already clear category leaders wanted to know how to create a second or third white labeled high ranking site.

Search Can be a Cheap Distribution Channel

If you are already paying for the cost structure of running a brick and mortar business, there is little incremental cost to gaining more organic search traffic...the medium is still exceptionally under-priced.

Search Exposure Builds Real Value

If you are one of 400 insurance brokers or real estate agents selling the same recycled stuff, then you don't want to rank where you deserve...even if you are number 12 out of 400 you are probably getting less than 1% of the potential traffic. That is pretty crappy relative to how well you would do with just a bit more effort.

A thin affiliate site with little to no editorial content was recently bought for $34 million. That site was not bought out because it was above average, but because it had above average rankings. The CEO even stated that they bought the site based largely on its search engine rankings.

Isn't SEO Manipulative?

As referenced above, most of the entire media ecosystem is heavily manipulated. Why? The intersection of 2 key points. ;)

Many people who claim to be against manipulative SEO practices have no problem with being manipulative and lying with their public relations. Both have the same end goal of profit, but renting a link to try to rank one spot higher is nowhere near as toxic as lying is.

Almost every public facing person in media is a salesman, electioneering for their own self-interests.

Even Search Engines Hire SEOs

Large media organizations like the NYT employ SEO tactics. Even search engines have internal SEO teams. Laura Lippay is the SEO program manager for Yahoo!. I know Microsoft has an SEO team because a couple years ago a headhunter contacted me wanting to hire me to work on that team.

If search engines employ SEO then you should too. Why not help your company rank the best it can?

Why Outing is Bad

For many webmasters profitability comes from leveraging new platforms along with creativity and innovation...often within the gray area where marketing strategies are not yet abused. But when a well known SEO outs something they are intentionally trying to make the search engine look stupid, forcing the search engineer's hands into banning something or making something 'not count'.

As an industry will we fare better building each other up or advocating knocking each other down?

Want to Help Google Clean Up the Web?

Google Sells Ads to Spammers

Google sells ads that promote virtually anything. All a person needs to do to get exposure through their ad network is open up their wallet.

Eric Schmidt said that the internet is fast becoming a "cesspool" where false information thrives. Here is how you can make the web a better place! Anytime you see a Google AdWords/AdSense advertisement that does any of the following...

  • makes a false claim
  • engage in cookie pushing, reverse billing fraud, or push spyware
  • promotes something that is illegal or immoral
  • is published on a copy of stolen copyright work

make sure you file a Google spam report AND out it on your blog. Google needs more help cleaning up their ads than the organic search results (as the paid search algorithm is much less complex and is directly influenced by payment). That is, of course, unless Google likes promoting infidelity while cleaning up the web.

Published: December 4, 2008

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Comments

December 4, 2008 - 2:42pm

That is a piece and a half of writing - truly phenomenal depth. Great work! It's just gobbled up my lunch hour but totally worth the read!

renesisx
December 4, 2008 - 3:35pm

Holy cow, Aaron. Another exceptional post from you. I really like your points of view and the way you get to the point quickly and link to other articles to back up what you're saying. Very nicely researched.

The bit about the parking meter amused me. The parking meters near my current office are evil. They usually swallow about 50% of the money that is put into them. But it's not enough for any one person to file a complaint. Normally the meter will just ignore the first couple of coins you put in and keep them. People end up hitting the machine and then just put more coins in and get their ticket. All the machines in the city are programmed the same way. My guess is that this makes the city about 50% more from their meters.

Of course, some people walk away and leave a note on their car that the machine isn't working. The meter guys wait for these people and then just ticket them when the owner has walked out of range. It is obvious the meter guys (who have the contacts required to raise the broken meter issue to the level needed for them to get fixed) are aware of the broken meters, but it actually helps their jobs immensely, and I guess they justify it in their minds by the fact that they had nothing to do with programming the software in the meters and that they are literally doing the letter of their jobs.

Ugh!

As you say - stuff like that is EVERYWHERE. Everything in the world is tainted in a similar way when you start looking at it. It's almost best to put the blinkers on and not think about it too much :(

December 4, 2008 - 4:30pm

With Dick Cheney coming from Halliburton, Condoleezza Rice from Chevron and Afghan President Hamid Karzai from Unocal, people already planned before 9/11 (http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/01/10/oneill.bush/) that the Iraq War would be sold as a need, while being a want (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2008/11/hungry.html).

When presidential candidates (and Google) need funds (monetization) from corporate world (scrapers and big online players), the offenders get immunity from the laws.

December 4, 2008 - 4:37pm

This post seems more like a manifesto to me and I've really enjoyed it.

Aaron, could you tell me why you believe Green Energy will be the next bubble? I'm only asking because most companies, especially the American car manufacturers, are very slow to adopt the technology. It also seems that most people want to adopt the concept of living Green but believe it's not economically feasible.

Other than that, I loved the post. I'll make sure to share it with friends on Facebook and Twitter.

December 4, 2008 - 5:53pm

Hi Jennifer
This link is more in depth than the above post is, and is devoted to the specific topic of bubbles and why alternative energy will be the next big bubble
http://www.harpers.org/archive/2008/02/0081908

December 4, 2008 - 5:55pm

Just a phenomenal piece of writing, Aaron.

I think it's safe to say that your writing has burst well beyond the boundaries of "SEO" as a topic, and that, as far as I'm concerned, is all the more reason to read it.

I haven't read Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent - but I've just ordered it on Amazon.

For newcomers to SEOBook.com, the brand no longer does the content justice. I started reading here two years ago to learn more about SEO. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I've come to expect among the most incisive commentary on media available.

As for SEO - I'd say by it's definition it is manipulative, but is it dishonest? It may be, but such is business. Marketing has never been about telling the whole truth and taking what you deserve.

December 4, 2008 - 6:44pm

Am sure you will enjoy Manufacturing Consent Mike. Thanks for the kind comment :)

December 4, 2008 - 6:34pm

Really interesting post. Thanks Aaron

December 4, 2008 - 8:43pm

This post might have cost you thousands of dollars and might not have made you any direct sales but it certainly increases your credibility.

December 4, 2008 - 8:52pm

Love it when you go off the reservation, Aaron. Like the idea of policing Adsense, although its not hard to understand why Google prioritizes the integrity of organic search over paid - because there is no such thing as integrity when it comes to advertising. Gets in the way of the bottom line.

As for Rand, he's right too, in his intentions anyhow. No harm in helping Google remove crap from their index - although there are arguably much better examples of useless crap to highlight rather than outing one of your own competitors.

December 4, 2008 - 10:09pm

Incredible article, probably your best.

You're right about SEO, it's looked down upon, which is great. It keeps the crooked SEOers out of the picture because they can no longer compete with sites that add true value.

By educating a potential client on the "NEW SEO strategy" ... you can close on any business.

December 4, 2008 - 10:35pm

You must have had a double espresso today Aaron...and I'll be happy to give you a triple shot to see what happens! ;)
Love the fact that you pose the media in the same light as SEO - but 100% accountability and truth were never part of either agenda...more part of the myth to allow it to continue. We want to believe in the news and in our search engines - making us all gullible and at-risk. Google inspired a cesspool, and now absolves themselves of all blame. Go figure. As I gleaned from this lovely and engaging diatribe, at the end of the day, be it in war, SEO, or newscasts, it is and always will be all about the Benjamins. And lemmings. And hype.
It's selling cakes made out of frosting to the starving.

December 5, 2008 - 12:48am

Aaron

Another excellent post in the fight against hypocrisy. As a firm proponent for the belief that publishers are responsible for the ads they carry, I particularly enjoy calling out Google for carrying deceptive, immoral or just despicable advertisements.

What really got my attention was "conditional site structure alterations based on crawl information". Do tell, please!

I am sure that is a post in itself...perhaps one of those members only posts?

December 5, 2008 - 1:44pm

There is a thread in the forums here that discusses many of those topics in depth
http://community.seobook.com/information-architecture/4419-restructuring...
and here are a few tips in this training module as well
http://training.seobook.com/web-analytics
though we might soon revise and update that module to make that piece of it bigger, better, deeper, etc.

December 5, 2008 - 3:45pm

Now I understand what you mean. One of those simply, no risk ideas that is obvious in hindsight. Easily worth the cost of joining your community.

When you said "conditional" I was assumed you were talking about something dynamic and possible murky, like a conditional redirect..

December 5, 2008 - 4:30pm

It can be programmed to be automated as well. The person I was talking to owned a listing type site, and one could look at things like crawl date, crawl frequency, search referrals, inbound links, and pagerank ... and use the combination of those to set up an algorithm to run a 100% automated solution, or something that was 99% automated, but had a human intelligence stage added to it.

December 4, 2008 - 11:29pm

This was a great read Aaron. Thank you for taking the time to post it.

A little rant about Dimwit's comment above:

Dimwit, "As for Rand, he's right too, in his intentions anyhow. No harm in helping Google remove crap from their index"

I think you missed the whole point of Aaron's post here. How is Rand right with his intentions? Do you really think his goal is to help Google remove junk from its index?

With the last site Rand outted, It was obvious he was trying to rank for "SEO company" while also pimping his new link analysis tool. He knew it was a good controversial topic that would get plenty of links (with his desired anchor text) from all the Seomoz sheep/fanboys.

Please be more objective and see those Seomoz outting posts for their self-interest face value... which goes back to the point of Aaron's post here about media slant/manipulation.

December 5, 2008 - 6:46am

At some level, yes I do think Rand (and all of us) want better search results - less spam.

But your point is valid (and actually reinforces what I said), that our selfish interests as SEOs are often contradictory if not outright hypocritical.

I have no problem filing spam reports when I come across some of the obnoxious link-spam from India and eastern Europe that pollutes my results. And I think at some level, this is what Rand was getting it by saying it was our 'job' as SEOs to help Google do its job better.

I don't disagree with him. But you're absolutely right, he didn't really help his case by choosing something in his backyard as an example. And it wasn't even particularly egregious...

December 4, 2008 - 11:48pm

I had that chat with Rand too both in moz and email. Jim and Rand both claim to be a white hat now. I don't get it or may be their definitions of it. It just sounds so hypocritical in every sense of the word as we are all in a way marketers.

December 4, 2008 - 11:53pm

Great post.

It is too easy not too think. I believe we are lazy - it is the natural way for people. And perhaps we've been trained too much to believe mom and dad...

December 5, 2008 - 4:48am

Google need to clean up Made For Adsense sites - that's the biggest cesspool on the internet that makes Google millions.

In fact, the internet would be a far far cleaner place if Adsense didn't exist at all. Too many site owners wrap Adsense around meaningless / useless "content". Google know this and do nothing about it. People use these ads as escape points from a worthless site more than they want to click on these ads. Useless for both website visitor and advertiser.

December 5, 2008 - 7:27am

I think you're too kind (to Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz) and too gentle on the rest of us.

The only reason the meter guy can get away with tagging you before your time is up, is because none of us file complaints when that meter guy misbehaves. The only reason a city can set meters to under deliver is because we lack any consumer advocates or citizen activists. And the reason for that... well, Chomsky covers it ad-nauseum, and it's too big to describe here. I'll just refer to it by an acronym.. say..how about "TV"?

We shall get what we deserve, and if we accept what we are served, well, we get what we deserve.

December 5, 2008 - 7:32am

So while it's probably in my best interests to develop further the relationship I think my comments here have been building with you, I'm going to play devil's advocate and 'lose thousands of dollars' in potential links from you lol.

First of all, if we're going to consider being manipulative and/or hypocritical, how about these general points:

- The media are a bunch of manipulative, lying bastards who hop on the latest trend, because they're pushed by advertisers.
- Fraud is a fundamental part of capitalism.
Followed by ---- Sensationalism is a source of misinformation. Bad Jason Calacanis!

- People are afraid of technology, but they shouldn't be.
- I've been paid $1000/minute.
- A CEO spent 30 minutes with me for $300 and will make $1M.
- I've got 10,000s of customers.
- Most people don't deserve to rank higher.
- Paying me a lot of money will rank you higher, regardless.
--- Spin is bad.
--- (On the sales page: As seen in {insert big-name media properties here}

While I recognize that you're a brilliant SEO, and am certain that you've made your clients bundles of money, you have to admit that there's a fair share of hype (aka spin, depending on whose vocabulary you choose) and perhaps a wrinkle of hypocrisy here :).

As an aside, I really enjoyed this post regardless and have to agree with you about a number of these points. I just felt compelled to point out a few inconsistencies in them. It's not a personal attack, so please don't take it that way. (And I hope you'll still be willing to link to me in the future ;D.)

December 5, 2008 - 12:33pm

I think we all tend to be hypocritical from time to time...but the above post was not intended to be hyped up, boastful, or inconsistent.

  • Greed drives markets and is a FUNDAMENTAL part of capitalism.
  • In the US most people rate themselves as being better than they are.

These statements are not even opinion. They are science.

I will admit that at times I have used hype to market things...how could I have become as well known as I have (and know so much about the media manipulation game) if I have not participated in doing any it?

Yes my homepage and sales letters have "as seen in" logos on them because people are taught to trust the media. They shouldn't, but I am only one person and I can't change everything that is wrong with the world myself.

I can simply point things out as they are. People can learn from my advice or ignore it. Entirely up to them. To each their own.

Social proof of value is a core concept in sales (especially on a distributed social network). If I ignored the media coverage this site got and did not mention any of it that might drop the income of the site by 20% or more...what is the point of me being a marketer and avoiding common profitable marketing techniques?

My point of saying that I have had plenty of clients, a range of experience, and been paid a decent amount was as background to validate that almost nobody pays SEO professionals to rank them where they deserve to rank. That is true for small organizations right on through to multi-billion dollar organizations. ***Even the search engines have SEO teams***

I did not say all spin is bad. I implied that anyone who believes that all SEO practices should be transparent SHOULD ALSO be transparent in their marketing and public relations strategy, or their entire thesis is founded on being hypocritical.

To further drive home the above point I stated that buying a link to try to rank one position higher is nowhere near as corrosive as lying is. Again...I am writing truth - some will ignore it, others will see it for what it is.

I did not say "paying me will rank you higher, regardless" ... after all, I turn down over 99% of the people that try to hire me (and we make far more from our own sites than we do from client work). I won't take on a job UNLESS I have confidence I will be able to provide returns.

December 5, 2008 - 8:14pm

WRT to the greed comment, now you're approximating two things that aren't equivalent. Greed drives capitalism, but making the jump to say fraud is necessary to capitalism doesn't follow from that premise.

As to social proof - I'm with you on that. You can't change the world and you're certainly consistent in pointing out the value of social proof (which I use myself so I'm not knocking those 'as seen in...' type promotions) that it's easier to get people to adopt ideas they feel mesh with their own, rather than have them recognize that they're wrong, something you've written about before.

This I hadn't quite understood, so thanks for clarifying:
"I did not say all spin is bad. I implied that anyone who believes that all SEO practices should be transparent SHOULD ALSO be transparent in their marketing and public relations strategy, or their entire thesis is founded on being hypocritical. "

p.s. I know you're not a big fan of Guy Kawasaki's, but he makes some points in Reality Check that are worth reading, related to this discussion on $ as social proof etc.

December 5, 2008 - 8:31pm

People are flawed. All absolutist worldviews are flawed. Again this is fact, and I will defer to people smarter than I am:

BILL MOYERS:One of the British newspapers this morning had a headline, "Welcome to Socialism." It's not going that way, is it?

GEORGE SOROS:Well, you know, it's very interesting. Actually, these market fundamentalists are making the same mistake as Marx did. You see, socialism would have worked very well if the rulers had the interests of the people really at heart. But they were pursuing their self-interests. Now, in the housing market, the people who originated the houses earned the fee.

And the people who then owned the mortgages their interests were not actually looked after by the agents that were selling them the mortgages. So you have a, what is called an agent principle problem in socialism. And you have the same agent principle problem in this free market fundamentalism.

Another relevant quote:

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." - Frederic Bastiat

You are right though...people are not required to commit fraud...it is just that it is encouraged by our system of capitalism, where the largest corporations buy the elections and write the laws for the citizens to follow.

And the smaller honest bank that did not commit fraud and risk the country's financial system suffers from 1 of 2 conditions

  • they were not worth as much as a competing business that was committing fraud OR
  • they are now competing against businesses that built up a big lead through fraud AND are heavily subsidized by the US government
December 5, 2008 - 7:33am

Oh, and the banks are disgusting pigs.

December 5, 2008 - 3:21pm

"And the next bubble will likely be related to green energy. "
Spot on Aaron!
I believe that far left polititians are wasting billions of dollars on something we don't need. In Britain we are now paying probably the highest level of green tax in the world. But I guess Obama will make you guys in the US pay as well.

December 5, 2008 - 5:34pm

Aaron!

Can I just say, you are the man! You are 100% correct in your stand point of both SEO outing practices, and also in your view of the media as a whole.

I was on the fence between your member program and that other member program (rides with "we-oz") a short while back, but with heavy hitting, and sound information like this, I have the clear answer. I will be signing up for your program in the coming days.

Thanks for shining the light on some of the serious issues facing marketers, but more importantly, those of us who would choose to use SEO as a marketing strategy.

December 5, 2008 - 6:50pm

Nice article. I don't agree that any outing should be done especially when what was outed was based on what Rand thought should be penalized. Like I posted on his site the link text profile he was calling spam looked pretty similar to some of yours. Not to say that's bad only that you don't always have control. Some directories index titles and descriptions, some require your business name as Title. Rand seems to think that we always have control over link text when anyone with half a brain knows that is just not the case. IMO, Rand wrote an article that painted the industry poorly and interfered with anothers ability to earn a living. The first though a drag is tolerable, the later should be unacceptable to everyone!

December 7, 2008 - 2:13am

I loved this:
"Many people who claim to be against manipulative SEO practices have no problem with being manipulative and lying with their public relations. Both have the same end goal of profit, but renting a link to try to rank one spot higher is nowhere near as toxic as lying is."

It's these people I'm most annoyed with in the SEO industry.

I had a lot of thoughts come to mind while reading this Aaron. Outstanding.

December 7, 2008 - 9:05am

Glad you liked the post Kim. :)

December 7, 2008 - 12:08pm

A truly epic post Aaron: well written, well argued and incredibly well researched. That said, I do feel like the tie-up at the end between why it's wrong to out (something I tend to sit on the fence on) and the nasty lies that politicians & media tell us seemed a bit forced. But maybe I'm missing something.

On a personal note, I have to say that as soon as someone mentions Chomsky I tend to put in place a mental filter as so many people who quote him do so in order to be able to push out rambling nonsense (something I'm not suggesting that you have done at all by the way). The comment suggesting that green energy is all just a 'far left' plot (despite the fact that the UK arguably hasn't had a far left government since the 1970s or even the 1960s) certainly tends to confirm my suspicions that mentioning Noam is a good way of bringing in extreme views of some shade or another.

December 7, 2008 - 10:18pm

People are always extreme with political stuff. And people do quote Chomsky for the sake of pushing garbage, but nothing I wrote was factually incorrect.

And true it may seem a bit forced to compare SEO to *any other part of the media ecosystem* but when we are talking about why a person should out another SEO for the sake of editorial purity, it is worth showing how that concept is a scam in every form of media (including paid search).

December 8, 2008 - 9:38am

Aaron - I wasn't suggesting that anything you wrote was inaccurate and the comment I was referring to was not in the post but left by a reader.

I can agree that there is no such thing as editorial purity but still feel that this post may have been a bit of a sledgehammer to crack a nut: don't get me wrong, I'd much rather read well argued and researched posts like this than the million "10 reasons Twitter rules Plurk" efforts that clutter up so much of the rest of the web.

But I do think you could have made exactly the same argument, with just as much force, in about 20% of the space. But that's just me.

December 8, 2008 - 10:10am

Sometimes I like to be over-researched, because when one tries to convey complex ideas without showing lots of factual back up to them it ends up where many people disagree with the conclusion without knowing how I came up with it.

In high school my math teach sometimes gave me points off for not showing my work (even though the answer was correct)...ever since then I have liked showing my work. :)

December 8, 2008 - 4:08am

Hey Aaron,

Great post. I'm not sure if you read the sphinn comments but I've been talking about this post and I want to be respectful enough to speak to you, instead of 'about' you, (like gossip in high school, YUK!)

.it is just that it is encouraged by our system of capitalism

This is probably the only statement in your post that I disagree with. I think the problem is mainly the FED, then capitalism. but that's a minor issue. :D Just want to be clear when I said, " I agree with Aaron about 95% of what he said" . I just wanted you to know that '5%' that I didn't agree with. :)

Great article. Top notch. Great demonstrations on your points.

Although people are 'rallying against' my statements on Sphinn. I don't think your in any way, shape, or form, to blame for this, since I doubt you even promoted this topic. I'm sure you just took your time to write a high quality post on informing SEO's about the Media/Government corruptions.

If your main purpose was to talk about 'why seo outing is bad'. The message wasn't illuminated and hidden way too deep within your great analogies. But I know your a great writer and you know your intentions before posting something (and/or before hitting the publish button). And I'm confident enough to say that your purpose wasn't directly about 'why seo outing is bad'. I think your goal was to educate SEO's about the media/government issues.

RE:Sphinn. Someone submitted your article to sphinn and at first, I sphunn it because it was good content but upon further thought, I realized it wasn't directly tied to IM, nor SEO. So then I 'desphunn it'. Not because I thought it was bad content (which I don't think it is...I think it's awesome content) but instead, I desphunn it for being off-topic (not seo, nor IM related).

I doubt I could encourage you to write a direct post about 'why seo outing is bad' but that is aside the point. My purpose of writing you is to speak to you directly, just like you rightly-fully deserve, since I've been talking about you, I should talk to you.

I'm not sure where you stand on 'outing' an SEO, I'm 100% against it. I don't rat out my competition, I just know what they are doing and use it to my advantage. Let Google weed out spam, I don't get paid for outing someone, plus the time that it takes to out someone, I could be making a phone call, getting a link from a hub site, which would be 10x more effective with my time.

Aaron, if you feel the urge to chat with me outside of your blog, feel free. 727-366-6474 or AIM/Skype: JoshuaSciarrino or gmail: joshua.sciarrino@gmail.com (if you want to edit out my # or w/e, that is fine.)

December 8, 2008 - 6:33am

With capitalism, it's all about greed and the cry for more, more. Loans were originally for the needy and poor. When firms get big and powerful enough thanks to capitalism (bln $$ loans), they would buy elections (with donations) & media (with ads), and whatnot. Bigger firms do it on higher scale being smarter (Eric Schmidt publicly endorsing Obama) and medium level guys (Yahoo shareholders possibly spreading rumors) do it on a lesser scale. Somewhere in this chain will be the PR 8 'Authority, trusted sites' employing only 'whitehat' strategies.

The message of this post to me is:
If you search for a medicine and see a "black-hat" viagra pill site above glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers, you don't need to out that site because GSK, BM, etc. are worse lying & hiding unfavorable research.

Google does what it does to enlarge its profits, NOT to make the web a better place.
Comment-spam was a problem and is a problem. Bringing nofollow in the disguise of anti-spam measures to later enforce it on paid links was not to promote free quality content (it affected thousands of publishers supporting their blogs by selling links).

If all marketing (online & offline) was fair, you would never hear superlative speech like best deals and cheapest stuff.

December 8, 2008 - 1:11pm

Aaron, you had me at "Noam Chomsky".

Great piece. Thank you.

December 8, 2008 - 2:47pm

I tell all my BizDev friends to read your blog, mainly because it's really a business blog skewed towards SEO. This type of post proves my point; you are a thought-leader in our industry.

Agree or disagree, there's no debating that point. Thanks for the consistent quality.

December 8, 2008 - 2:58pm

Thanks Dan :)

December 8, 2008 - 6:48pm

Aaron, it seems that my visits to your blog always results in learning something new, relearning something old, or thinking about things in a new way. I don't comment often because I've always felt that my contribution will not add to the conversation.

However, this post, amongst a sea of great posts, stopped me in my tracks. If my comment is nothing more than to say "you're a badass motherfucker" please forgive the wasted space, but the motivation I feel is real.

Bravo sir.

December 8, 2008 - 6:39pm

Thanks for the kind comment. :)

December 8, 2008 - 9:29pm

Hi Aaron

always enjoyed your blog but something's really gotten into you lately its corker after corker ;)

and this one, well... its difficult to come up with classy enough sounding superlatives that haven't already been used,
..so suffice to say it made me register.

as someone else said it really WAY surpasses what you expect to find on SEO blogs.

mind you it's probably $10k's worth if we had to pay you for the time isn't it? :)

seo blog post of the year nomination, cant see anyone topping this in the next 20 days.

August 15, 2009 - 2:12am

SEO outing is "bad"?

Oh, so if you're playing in a poker game and caught another player pulling cards out of his sleeves you wouldn't report him?

Oh, don't answer, let me guess. No, you wouldn't report him but that's only because you'd have even better cards up your own sleeves so you'd win anyway, right?

I sure hope you don't have children because I'd hate to think this is what you teach them.

August 15, 2009 - 2:23pm

But that analogy was a horrible one.

Poker has ***set*** rules. SEO does not, and the suggestions are constantly changing in the middle of the game. Everything is shades of gray. And a competitor setting you up with a negative frame and negative publicity can harm your business.

I sure hope you don't have children because they do not stand much chance of understanding public relations and market manipulation.

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